Exercise Red Flag

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F-16C aggressor aircraft during Red Flag 06-1

Exercise Red Flag is a two-week advanced aerial combat training exercise held several times a year by the United States Air Force. The purpose is to offer realistic air-combat training for military pilots and other flight crew members from the U.S., NATO and other allied countries.

Each year, four to six Red Flag exercises are held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, while up to four more, dubbed Red Flag – Alaska, are held at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

First held in 1975, the Red Flag exercises bring together air crews from the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Army (USA) and numerous NATO and other allied nations' air forces.

Red Flag exercises are conducted under the aegis of the United States Air Force Warfare Center (USAFWC) at Nellis. They are run by the 414th Combat Training Squadron (414 CTS) of the 57th Wing (57 WG). They use "enemy" hardware and live ammunition for bombing exercises within the adjacent Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR).[1][2]


The mission of the 414 CTS is to maximize the combat readiness and survivability of participants by providing a realistic training environment and a pre-flight and post-flight training forum that encourages a free exchange of ideas.[3] To accomplish this, combat units from the United States and its allied countries engage in realistic combat training scenarios carefully conducted within the Nellis Range Complex. The Nellis Range complex is located northwest of Las Vegas and covers an area of 60 nautical miles (111 km) by 100 nautical miles (190 km), about half the area of Switzerland. This space allows the exercises to be on a very large scale.[3]

A Royal Australian Air Force F-111 bomber approaching a Washington Air National Guard KC-135 tanker during Red Flag 06-1 (2006)

In a typical Red Flag exercise, Blue Forces (friendly) engage Red Forces (hostile) in realistic combat situations.

Blue Forces are made up of units from the Air Combat Command (ACC), Air Mobility Command (AMC), Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE), Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), Air National Guard (ANG), Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC), and Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), aviation units of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army, the Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force, as well as other allied air forces and fleet air arms. They are led by a Blue Forces commander, who coordinates the units in an "employment plan" scheme of operation.

Red Forces (adversary forces) are composed of the 57th Wing's 57th Adversary Tactics Group (57 ATG), flying F-16s from the 64th Aggressor Squadron (64 AGRS)[4] and F-15s from the 65th Aggressor Squadron (65 AGRS)[5] to provide realistic air threats through the emulation of opposition tactics. The Red Forces are also augmented by other U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps units flying in concert with the 507th Air Defense Aggressor Squadron's (507 ADAS) electronic ground defenses and communications, and radar jamming equipment. The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527 SAS), an Active Duty unit, and the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron (26 SAS), an Air Force Reserve Command unit, also provide GPS jamming. Additionally, the Red Force command and control organization simulates a realistic enemy integrated air defense system (IADS).

Two Israeli Air Force F-15 Ra'ams practicing air defense maneuvers at Red Flag 2004

A key element of Red Flag operations is the Red Flag Measurement and Debriefing System (RFMDS). RFMDS is a computer hardware and software network which provides real-time monitoring, post-mission reconstruction of maneuvers and tactics, participant pairings and integration of range targets and simulated threats. Blue Force commanders objectively assess mission effectiveness and validate lessons learned from data provided by the RFMDS.

A typical flag exercise year includes ten Green Flags (a close air support (CAS) exercise with the U.S. Army),[6] one Canadian Maple Flag (operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force) and four Red Flags. Each Red Flag exercise normally involves a variety of fighter interdiction, attack/strike, air superiority, enemy air defense suppression, airlift, air refueling and reconnaissance missions. In a 12-month period, more than 500 aircraft fly more than 20,000 sorties, while training more than 5,000 aircrews and 14,000 support and maintenance personnel.

Before a "flag" begins, the Red Flag staff conducts a planning conference where unit representatives and planning staff members develop the size and scope of their participation. All aspects of the exercise, including billeting of personnel, transportation to Nellis AFB, range coordination, ordnance/munitions scheduling, and development of training scenarios, are designed to be as realistic as possible, fully exercising each participating unit's capabilities and objectives.


An Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MKI undergoes post-flight maintenance during the Red Flag exercise in 2008.

The origin of Red Flag was the unacceptable performance of U.S. Air Force fighter pilots and weapon systems officers (WSO) in air combat maneuvering (ACM) (air-to-air combat) during the Vietnam War in comparison to previous wars.[citation needed] Air combat over North Vietnam between 1965 and 1973 led to an overall exchange ratio (ratio of enemy aircraft shot down to the number of own aircraft lost to enemy fighters) of 2.2:1 (for a period of time in June and July 1972 during Operation Linebacker the ratio was less than 1:1).

Among the several factors resulting in this disparity was a lack of realistic ACM training. USAF pilots and WSOs of the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s were not versed in the core values and basics of ACM due to the belief that BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missile engagements and equipment made "close-in" maneuvering in air combat obsolete.[citation needed] As a result of this BVR-only mindset that reached its zenith in the early 1960s, nearly all USAF fighter pilots and WSO of the period were unpracticed in maneuvering against dissimilar aircraft because of a concurrent Air Force emphasis on flying safety.

An Air Force analysis known as Project Red Baron II showed that a pilot's chances of survival in combat dramatically increased after he had completed 10 combat missions. As a result, Red Flag was created in 1975 to offer USAF pilots and weapon systems officers the opportunity to fly 10 realistically simulated combat missions in a safe training environment with measurable results. Many U.S. air crews had also fallen victim to SAMs during the Vietnam War and Red Flag exercises provided pilots and WSOs experience in this regime as well.

The concept of Colonel Richard "Moody" Suter became the driving force in Red Flag's implementation, persuading the then-Tactical Air Command commander, General Robert J. Dixon, to adopt the program. At Nellis, Suter was well-known and well-liked. The first Red Flag exercise was conducted on Gen Dixon's schedule in November 1975. On 1 March 1976, the 4440th Tactical Fighter Training Group (Red Flag) was chartered with Col P.J. White as the first commander, Lt Col Marty Mahrt as vice commander, and Lt Col David Burner as Director of Operations. This small crew under Col White's leadership undertook the task of firmly establishing the program.

The "aggressor squadrons", the opponents who flew against the pilots undergoing training, were selected from the top fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force. These pilots were trained to fly according to the tactical doctrines of the Soviet Union and other enemies of the period, in order to better simulate what then-TAC, as well as USAFE, PACAF and other NATO pilots and WSOs would likely encounter in real combat against a Warsaw Pact or other Soviet-proxy adversary. The aggressors were originally equipped with readily available T-38 Talon aircraft to simulate MiG-21, the T-38 being similar in terms of size and performance. F-5 Tiger II fighters, painted in color schemes commonly found on Soviet aircraft, were added shortly thereafter and became the mainstay until the F-16 was introduced.

Today, the 414th Combat Training Squadron (414 CTS) is the unit currently tasked with running Red Flag exercises, while the 64th Aggressor Squadron (64 AGRS) also based at Nellis AFB uses F-16 aircraft to emulate the MiG-29 Fulcrum. These aircraft continue to be painted in the various camouflage schemes of potential adversaries. An additional squadron at Nellis, the 65th Aggressor Squadron (65 AGRS), operated F-15 aircraft in various camouflage schemes of potential adversaries to replicate Su-27 Flanker and Su-35 Flanker threats. However, the 65 AGRS was inactivated[7] on 26 September 2014 due to Fiscal Year 2015 budget constraints imposed upon the Air Force that zero-lined the squadron's budget.[8]

The U.S. Navy operates a similar large-force training exercise known as Air Wing Fallon at NAS Fallon and the Fallon Range Training Complex in northern Nevada. Air Wing Fallon is a month long evolution designed to enhance a carrier air wing’s war-fighting ability in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground arenas, with the primary focus being for the air wing to become familiar with the complexity of a large force strike (LFS). Previously under the aegis of "Strike University" (STRIKE U), an O-6 level command when it was formed in 1984, STRIKE U was later merged with the fighter community's TOPGUN and the carrier airborne early warning community's TOPDOME following those organization's 1993 BRAC-directed relocation from the former NAS Miramar, California, forming the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) under the command of a naval aviation flag officer at NAS Fallon in July 1996. NSAWC then became the executive agent for Air Wing Fallon. In the 2010s, NSAWC incorporated the electronic attack community's HAVOC directorate, and in 2016, NSAWC was re-designated as the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC).[9] The Commander of NAWDC at NAS Fallon, the Commander of USAFWC at Nellis AFB, and their respective subordinate units and staffs maintain regular rapport with each other in areas of shared equities and the tactical development of the Joint Force.

Red Flag and Air Wing Fallon should not be confused with smaller, but longer duration, programs that the USAF and USN run to train individual weapons and tactics instructors. In 2009, the 416th Flight Test Squadron from Edwards AFB, California, also participated in Red Flag, the first time an Air Force Material Command (AFMC) unit had been part of the program.

Participating countries[edit]

Only countries considered friendly towards the United States take part in Red Flag exercises. So far, the countries to have participated in these exercises are:


Notable appearances in media[edit]

Red Flag was depicted in a 1981 made-for-TV movie, Red Flag: The Ultimate Game.[32] Red Flag is also featured in a 2004 IMAX film, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. An add-on module depicting a standard Red Flag campaign is available for the PC flying combat Simulator Digital Combat Simulator.[33] It allows the player to pilot an A-10C, F-5E, or F-15C.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Factsheets : U.S. Air Force Warfare Center". af.mil. Archived from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  2. ^ "Factsheets : 57th Wing". af.mil. Archived from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Factsheets : 414th Combat Training Squadron "Red Flag"". af.mil. Archived from the original on 18 September 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Factsheets : 64th Aggressor Squadron". af.mil. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Factsheets : Unknown Fact Sheet". af.mil. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  6. ^ "Factsheets : Green Flag". af.mil. Archived from the original on 18 September 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  7. ^ "Nellis aggressor squadron inactivated". af.mil. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  8. ^ "65th Aggressor Squadron Falls Prey to Nellis Budget Cuts". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  9. ^ http://www.public.navy.mil/airfor/nawdc/Pages/About.aspx
  10. ^ http://news.defence.gov.au/2016/02/22/exercise-red-flag-2016-wrap-up/
  11. ^ https://www.nellis.af.mil/News/Article/285185/red-flag-11-2-provides-belgians-realistic-training/
  12. ^ http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/royal-canadian-air-force-cf-18s-participate-in-exercise-red-flag-alaska-2152207.htm
  13. ^ Infodefensa.com (24 July 2017). "Pilotos latinoamericanos en el Red Flag - Opinión Infodefensa América". infodefensa.com. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  14. ^ https://www.fac.mil.co/red-flag
  15. ^ https://www.fac.mil.co/fuerza-a%C3%A9rea-colombiana-se-prepara-para-red-flag-2018
  16. ^ "Finland's participation in international training and exercises". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 2018-02-26.
  17. ^ a b http://www.defense.gouv.fr/air/breves-migration/exercice-red-flag-08-aux-usa
  18. ^ "IAF may take part in combat exercise in US". The Times of India. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  19. ^ "India to participate in world's largest maritime warfare exercise in US next year". The Indian Express. 11 December 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  20. ^ Pickering, Moray (August 13, 2016). "Israeli F-16Is head to Red Flag". Military Aviation Review. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  21. ^ Shahm, Nadav (September 4, 2016). "The "Red-Flag" Training Exercise Has Come to an End". Israeli Air Force official. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  22. ^ "Jordanian air force pilots pay 'working visit' to Israel". timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  23. ^ "Airforce underway to Red Flag". Website Dutch Ministry of Defence. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
  24. ^ "Pakistani F-16C/D Block 52+ jets enroute to Green and Red Flag in the U.S. perform stopover at Lajes Field". Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  25. ^ "Polskie F-16 poćwiczą na Alasce". TVN24.pl. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  26. ^ "Colombia's Air Force Joins Red Flag 2012". dialogo-americas.com. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  27. ^ "Royal Air Force playing major role in world's premier air combat exercise - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  28. ^ "RAF Typhoons join Exercise Red Flag in Nevada". www.raf.mod.uk. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  29. ^ antrocanal (3 November 2007). "Re: 1992 - Venezuelan Red Flag - Fuerza Aérea Venezolana de 3". Retrieved 27 December 2017 – via YouTube.
  30. ^ Ranter, Harro. "Accident General Dynamics F-111A 67-0105, 05 Jul 1979". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 2018-08-14.
  31. ^ Ranter, Harro. "Accident Blackburn Buccaneer S.2B XV345, 07 Feb 1980". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  32. ^ "Red Flag: The Ultimate Game (TV Movie 1981)". IMDb. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  33. ^ http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/news/2016-01-15_F-15C_Red_Flag_Campaign/


External links[edit]